A Rotary Passage to India

As a writer for Rotary International, I’m always looking for metaphors and similes, especially in unfamiliar places, always searching for the right phrase to carry a story about the work done by Rotary members.

On my first Rotary trip to India with Rotary Ambassador Minda Dentler to see the work of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in action, my task was easy, for in its sights, objects and even signs, rich metaphors are on frank display.

Take the sign I saw on the back of a ubiquitous Tata truck: ‘Obey the Traffic Rules’.

As any traveler on India’s roads will learn, vehicles will routinely drive on the wrong side of the traffic lane to overtake or to use a stretch of tarmac not devastated by the monsoon rains, resulting in hair-raising face-offs with oncoming traffic.

But I saw rule-breaking in different ways. The rules of public and even expert opinion dictated that a country of India’s size, population, and sanitation challenges could never become polio-free.

Despite the odds, India achieved that milestone last year, and I had the opportunity in November to see the polio eradication program in action during a Sub-National Immunization Day (SNID).

I’ve written about Rotary’s work to eradicate polio for almost a year, but a field visit brings home not just the scale of the project, but the lives behind the work that keeps India’s 172 million children safe from the disease.

I met dedicated Rotary members such as Deepak Kapur, India PolioPlus Committee Chair. As we ascended in the freight elevator at his printing factory in Delhi, seeing staff dashing to meet production deadlines, it dawned on me just what kind of a sacrifice is involved in committing to end polio.

Here was a businessman, running successful operations in his humming factory, filled with stacks of printed books, pamphlets and papers, who somehow finds the time to pull together all the threads required to ensure that one of the most populous countries in the world will never again fear the threat of polio.

Thousands more like Deepak live out Rotary’s creed, which is why the polio effort has been such a success.

There are the local Delhi Rotary members who joined Minda and me for a SNID in Delhi. In particular, there are also the female health workers who we had the pleasure to meet, embodying the dedication that has driven polio out of India.

Rotary members are the cement for the building blocks of India’s future, and they have built a wonderful legacy for the health of their nation.

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John F. Germ, 2016-17 Rotary President | Feb. 14, 2017